The last week has been an eventful one for the Wallace Oak in Port Glasgow. The Society of William Wallace have had the remains of the famous tree moved to a safe place where it can gradually dry out before hopefully being put on display locally. This includes both sections of the trunk, one of which has a chain embedded in the tree’s growth.
My analysis of a sample from the oak, together with examination of its form in old photos, has led to the conclusion that the oak could have been old enough to have reached a good size by the time William Wallace was captured in 1305. Local tradition has it that Wallace was chained to this tree when being taken from Scotland to London, where he was found guilty of treason and brutally murdered.
While the section of the tree I could age was much younger, originating in the 18th century, it is evident that this was regrowth from above the ancient hollow base which sprouted after the tree was bored and had boiling pitch poured in under the instruction of the 13th Earl of Glencairn in 1763. This had the effect of rejuvenating the tree. Clearly the tree was already a hollow veteran then, and could easily have been 500 or more years old by that time. The other important point is that the association with Wallace was already known and regarded as significant in the 18th century, and this tradition is not a Victorian invention.
The tree was well known to local people, many of whom had their wedding photos taken beside it when it was growing in the grounds of the Holy Family RC Church, which was built in the 1950s. More research on the history of the growing site would be worthwhile. This week, the story of the tree has been in the national and local press, and discussed on Radio Scotland. I am delighted to be working with the Society of William Wallace on this project.